Ron James held his first open tryout as the new head coach of the Utah Blaze on Friday morning at the University of Utah, and he couldn't have been happier with the talent that showed up.
"The number of players was about what we expected, but what was really nice was the high quality of the players," said James. "It's uncommon to have that many NFL-veteran players come to an open tryout."
Of course, it helps to have NFL-caliber players living in the Blaze's backyard who are interested in playing for the local Arena Football League franchise.
Among the 80 players in attendance were a trio that have a combined 15-plus years of NFL experience Reno Mahe, Ade Jimoh and Toniu Fonoti.
Mahe, the former return specialist for the Philadelphia Eagles, is the best known of that group locally after having starred at both Brighton High and BYU as a running back and wide receiver. He actually attended the tryout in street clothes and didn't participate in drills but spent much of the time chatting with Blaze owner John Garff and team president Jason Jones.
Mahe, who is now living in Lehi after his five-year NFL career with the Eagles, admits he has some interest in playing for the Blaze.
"Being able to play football in Utah again is kind of a sweet idea," said Mahe. "Utah is home for me, you know, going to junior high, high school and college here. ... I tell you what, I'd get a lot of people to the games all my family."
Jimoh is a defensive back who played at Utah State before spending four years with the Washington Redskins and last year with the Chicago Bears. This season he was in training camp with the New England Patriots and recently worked out for the Seattle Seahawks. He has now returned to Utah, however, where he is attending Westminster College working on a graduate degree.
"I'm used to the NFL and the 50-yard by 100-yard field," said Jimoh. "But it's football, and if you are a good athlete you can learn."
Fonoti, an offensive lineman, is another NFL veteran who worked out with the Blaze. The former star at Nebraska, who is currently living in Utah, was drafted in the second round by the San Diego Chargers in 2002, and he played there until 2005. He has also spent time with the Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers.
James expects "six or seven" of the 80 players who tried out on Friday to be invited back to training camp.
The Blaze, meanwhile, are looking for a new starting quarterback after Joe Germaine dropped a bombshell on them recently by opting out of his contract. Germaine signed a five-year deal prior to last season, but it had a clause that stated he could opt out if the Blaze replaced then-head coach and general manager Danny White. So Germaine, who has indicated that he would like to play near his home in Arizona, is now a free agent.
The AFL's free agency signing period begins next Wednesday, and the Blaze have a few veteran QBs on their radar screen.
"We really can't say right now who we are trying to sign because Oct. 22 is when the free agent period begins," said James. "But we do have offer sheets out to several quarterbacks, and we have a verbally accepted offer from a legitimate starting quarterback in this league who has a lot of experience."